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Information Architecture in Vista

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I have been running Vista for a while now. Not once have I had a real crash. A few applications have crashed here and there, and that is going to happen on any OS/platform. Applications have problems at times. It's no big deal.

Each release of Vista during the RC/beta process was better and better. It was faster, and more cohesive. I really love the search in the control panel. Ever since Windows 3.1, I could never find the right icon for what I needed to do. The control panel was always the worst designed aspect of the system. Just a giant switchboard interface, with no real guidance, or rhyme or reason. It lacked any sense of Information Architecture. It was a firehose of options.

Windows XP tried to fix that, with the groupings, and what not, but I always clicked it back to 'classic view' when I setup my profile because I had become comfortable with the dysfunctional menu, and didn't like the menu aimed for 'everyday' people.

Vista has even more items in the control panel. They improved the 'everyday' person (joe lunchpail) interface by improving the groupings, so that isn't too bad. They helped the experience, but not expert user, by promoting common used features to the grouping level. But the best thing is the search bar on the control panel window. I just type in what I am looking for, and it comes up.

This is a perfect example of a tiered information architecture. Architects think too much about the backed, and they leave users out. Thats fine, it will get better, as architects start to focus on the whole application, and not just the gears behind the curtain. Those architects that do pay attention to UX and IA will produce better applications, which will help their users kick ass, which is what architecture and development is all about.

So what is this tiered IA?

Tiered IA means that 70% of the screen/window is for novice/new users, 20% is dedicated to experienced/return users, and 10% to 'expert' users. In this case, a novice can plumb through the well labeled categories to find what they want. To protect against going down blind alleys, or ambiguous groupings, an item may be found in several areas.

For regular or return users, the common functions have been promoted to the category list.

For those experts that know what they are looking for (and expert here means someone who is very familiar with a system, not someone with a MCSD.) they can just go directly to that.

A side effect in this case is that the expert search bar is very useful to the other categories of users as well.

This tiered approach is used on a lot of B2C web sites that really need to cater to a wide audience. The bulk of the main landing page is about what the site does (perhaps explains what eBay does, or who the bank is). Then a portion is for regular users; they can get some information (most active auctions, today's rates, etc.). That last group is served usually by very dense and abbreviated information. A small login cluster is the most common example of this.

I don't plan on turning on classic mode in my Control Panel. I plan on searching every time.


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